The Boy

Those authors that wish to write about incredibly short stories.

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The Boy

Post by Paul » Fri Jun 16, 2023 10:28 pm

You know it is definitely bad when someone shouts your unabbreviated name, emphasising each syllable, AN THON NEEEEEEE!

Part 1. A Warning
I'm lying at the edge of the river. I'm young to be near the river on my own, but my parents are smart enough to know how smart I am.

Usually I like to prod the mud looking for whatever creature interests me that day. Sometimes I investigate nooks and crannies a short way up- or down-river. Today I’m just watching the water and thinking about nothing much.

I see an otter. I love otters. They aren't common here. My second birthday I asked dad if we could move to Shetland. He explained why not; disappointing but it sounded reasonable. The otter is close, about two meters upriver, and it climbs onto the muddy bank and plops itself on its back, legs akimbo. I hear the plop and smile. Is it also smiling?

It occasionally turns its head, as if sunbathing and trying for an even spread of sunlight. I watch for a while and then, thinking in that childish way, wave my hand to make myself known, expecting the otter to dive into the river. But it doesn't. Instead it looks at me, apparently entranced, like my baby sister when I spin the mobile above her cot.

I say "Hello". It seems the sensible thing. The otter rights itself, in no hurry. It looks one way then the other and shrugs its shoulders - as far as I can describe in words. It seems like a handshake ritual. Everyone has their handshake ritual and they vary it depending on who they are greeting and the context. When I get a handshake it’s often "hello young man", a certain walk as they approach, sometimes subtle sometimes exaggerated, maybe an actual handshake, maybe a pat on my shoulder or a ruffle of my hair. The otter here is saying "well met stranger".

The river is its usual muddy green. It’s wide enough for islands, one such is just across from us. I feel like I should observe these and the sky and the trees before finding a reply. But at this point the otter comes closer, sets itself down before me, and begins to talk. Or I take it for talking.

"You understand the language" the otter says with a nod - perhaps it’s a bow.

And I do understand. I understand that observing our surroundings means "we meet in a good place". And I understand the otter and I are talking not as in any conversation I've had before. I see the otter is male, quite old, Lutra lutra, native to the UK and the most common species of otter. But this otter is not acting in anyway common. He asks my name.

This simple question gives me a new insight into the language. In asking my name he gives his own name. And, in a way I can't describe here, he suggests my name.

I look over my shoulder, to my home beyond the field and hedges. There's a copse of mostly mountain ash halfway between the river and the house. There's cows grazing near the trees. I remember when I first walked across the field, less than a year ago. Today's weather is very like that day, cumulus clouds dot the sky, dry air, a breeze from the west. And I look back to the river and towards the nearby island.

"Yes, that’s my home” says the old otter.

I am always curious and this is the most curious thing I've encountered in my five years and fifty five days. I've understood subtle communications between my parents and others from birth, but the person here - and surely he is a person - confounded even my perspective.

So, I have my otter name in this curious way, and I have his, and I could not write either of them here other than what I’ve written above, and the old otter invites me to his home.

The river is swift beyond its shore. I'm sure I can't cross to the island. The otter indicates my strong upper body.

My proportions are unusual. I didn't walk until four years old. An aunt said I had "lucky" legs. I thought that hilarious but my parents thought it cruel. Either way, my body and arms are on the contrary so I trust the otter's assurance.

I follow him into the water and he leads me down-river close to the shore, then up, then down, for a few minutes. I've done this before, paddling then doggy paddling until I can feel the tug of the current. Then, with no obvious warning, he heads up-river parallel to the shore and just short of the current I can’t swim against. I take his lead, my arms pulling at the water with a force I hadn't realised I’m capable of. And from here we swim a wide arc up- then down-river and I easily make it to the island, just short of its head. As I stand I realise the otter has guided me on the perfect trajectory, and moreover given me little time to entertain doubt.

He points me to a holt nearby. “Take a peek inside, you’ll find it interesting, let me warn the other half first” and he disappears into the hole.

I’m smiling at his “other half” expression. There is something about the way he said it, gestures that remind me of aunt “lucky” when she play-acts her other half. I’m interrupted when the otter returns. He is upset.

“You need to go home! Follow the reverse course across the river.”

“But why? Can I help?”

“Don’t worry about me. You must be careful.”

And he gives the briefest of expressions, the most subtle of movements, and somehow I know this person is not a stranger. I feel there is something he wants to say but thinks I would not understand. Instead he urges me, “No time, go home quick.”

On his advice I enter the river at the point I’d exited, now fully confident I could match the current. As I reach my objective I look back towards the island. I feel disappointed the otter isn’t there to congratulate me. Then I hear “AN THON NEEEE!”

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